Christ the King
As Christians we are to be in no doubt of Christ’s authority over us. And not only His authority, but also His existence, and that He is the only way to the Father. Along with this we need to believe that one day Jesus will judge us fairly and justly.
This must be proclaimed to the world (Acts 10:42; Romans 2:9-16), but when He judges He will do so according to the Gospel (John 12:48; Romans 2:9-16), and he will judge fairly (Acts 10:34-35; Colossians 3:24-25).
Jesus is qualified to be our Judge, because He knows what is in our hearts (John 2:24-25; Revelation 2:23), and therefore He is able to be a just and righteous judge of all the world (Acts 17:30-31). Yet Jesus did not receive justice, fairness and righteousness at His own trial.
John’s description of Jesus’ trial is very different from the scenes portrayed in the Synoptics. John has intentionally and dramatically arranged the trial of Jesus before Pilate into 7 scenes. Like a rabbit, Pilate hops in and out to meet the Jews and to interact with Jesus. The important thing to see is that each scene – and the whole trial – centres on KINGSHIP.
Scene 1: 18:28-32 – Jesus is accused; the charge will be sedition — making himself a king.
Scene 2: 18:33-38a: The nature of Jesus’ kingship is raised.
Scene 3: 18:38b-40 – The choice; King of the Jews or Barabbas? The people reject the king for a bandit.
Scene 4: 19:1-3 – Jesus is crowned King of the Jews.
Scene 5: 19:4-7 – Jesus is presented to the people dressed ironically as a king.
Scene 6: 19:8-11 – Jesus’ authority as king and Son of God is revealed.
Scene 7: 19:12-16a – Jesus is presented as King of the Jews.
The issue of Jesus’ kingship has already been raised. Look back to John, chapter 6. He has just satisfied the bellies of the 5000 when they try to seize him and force him to be king; but Jesus slips away. His authority as king originates not from this world but from God and his kingdom has to do with the reign of love, not political expediency aimed at personal aggrandizement.
Jesus knows that too easily we enslave ourselves to cynical rulers who rely on power and coercion to succeed, so long as they satisfy our bellies and require no sacrifice. Jesus also already knows that later in the story the people of God will cry out, with the most devastating irony: “We have no King but Caesar!” (19:15)
Our passage comprises Scene 2– The nature of Jesus’ kingship. Pilate has just hopped back in from asking Jesus’ accusers about the charge against him. We know from historical records that Pilate was a brutal man. Being assigned to the backwaters of Palestine was not part of his ambitious political career plans.
He tries to send away the pesky Jews but they persist. So he comes to investigate whether Jesus is a political threat to Rome. Hence the question: “Are you the King of the Jews?”
Rather than answer Pilate, Jesus becomes the interrogator and judge in this trial. Pilate is not as in control as he pretends to be and Jesus knows it. (see their exchange in 19:10-11). In response to Jesus’ question, Pilate declares, “I’m not a Jew, am I?” Of course he’s not; quite the opposite: he’s a Roman representing the arm of the Empire that is oppressing Jesus’ own people, the Jews.
Pilate is opposed to Jesus, and is entirely uninterested in truth for truth’s sake. In doing this he becomes entwined with the words we read in John 1:11 “He came to what was his own, and his own people didn’t accept him.” As the Jewish people are rejecting Jesus, so too is Pilate.
In verse 36, Jesus responds, in a way, to Pilate’s king question. But Jesus does not crow about being a king; rather, he immediately speaks not about himself BUT his community, calling it a kingdom. In doing this he contrasts himself with Pilate.
Pilate uses power and authority for selfish ends with no concern for the building of community, and certainly not a community guided by love and truth. Instead Pilate hoards power and lords it over people even to the point of destroying them, on a cross or otherwise.
Jesus, on the other hand, empowers others and uses his authority to wash the feet of those he leads. He spends his life on them, every last ounce of it; he gives his life to bring life.
Pilate’s rule brings terror, even in the midst of calm. Jesus’ rule brings peace, even in the midst of terror (John 14:27; 16:33; 20:19-26).
Pilate’s followers imitate him by using violence to conquer and divide people by race, ethnicity, and nations. Jesus’ followers put away the sword in order to invite and unify people, as Jesus does when he says “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (12:32). Pilate’s authority originates from the will of Caesar and is always tenuous. Jesus’ authority originates from doing the will of God, and so is eternal.
In Jesus’ response Pilate only hears that Jesus is a possible threat to his own authority: “So you ARE a king?” In response to this Jesus pushes deeper to the heart of the matter, for this is the trial of the ages… because truth itself is on trial and… Jesus is the star witness.
Will Pilate side with Truth or Cynicism?
What about us?
In the end, Pilate attempts to crucify the Truth. He places a mocking placard announcing Jesus as The King of the Jews. The irony is thick, Pilate has unwittingly announced the truth.
There on the cross the King is crowned, not with diamonds or a laurel wreath but with thorns. And from that lofty height, He births the church.
So Christ’s kingship is not to be understood in triumphalist terms, but in terms of his radical suffering and service to the outcast, and thus His kingship needs to be understood in terms of radical love. For loving Truth wins… overand over again. Long live the King!
Sunday 25th November 2018
Based on Daniel 7:9-10 & 13-14, and John 18:33-37